As Andrew Sullivan noted nearly three years ago in an important essay on America’s slow drift toward tyranny, Plato believed that political regimes and the souls of their citizens mirror each other. A change in political form can lead to a change in the character of citizens, and vice versa. Tyrannies emerge in many ways, but sometimes they arise when the citizens of a democratic political community develop tyrannical souls.

What Twitter shows us is a real-time ultrasound of the souls of America’s cultural and intellectual elite and its most committed activists — the people in charge of disseminating knowledge and who take the lead in organizing political action in our society. The picture it reveals is ugly, vulgar, shrill, and intolerant, with souls exhibiting an incapacity to deliberate, weigh evidence, and judge judiciously. They display an impulsiveness and unhinged rage at political enemies that is incompatible with reasoned thinking about how we might go about governing ourselves, heal the divisions in our country, and avoid a collapse into civic violence that could usher in tyranny.

In 1984, George Orwell famously described a totalitarian political order in which people were kept as docile subjects in part by a daily ritual called “Two Minutes Hate” in which the population directs all of its pent up fury at “Goldstein,” a possibly fictional enemy of the state.

Thanks to Twitter, we now know that the same dynamic can arise spontaneously, with fresh ire directed at a new manifestation of the partisan enemy nearly every day. It shows us that under certain circumstances — our circumstances — people can and will fasten onto an endless succession of real-life Goldsteins for the sheer, addictive joy of it — for the pure, delirious pleasure of denouncing manifestations of evil in our midst. Nothing, it seems, is quite as satisfying as singling out our fellow citizens for their moral failings and indulging in fantasies of their fully justified punishment.

We see this on the right, we see it on the left, and we increasingly see it among ostensibly nonpartisan journalists. No matter where it originates on the political spectrum, it is an impulse we indulge at our peril.

How long will a citizenry consumed by the untamed lust to banish ideological opponents into outer darkness continue to view the sharing and alternation of political rule as a worthwhile civic habit and ritual? We may be dangerously close to finding out.

[Keep reading. . .]

Here is an extract from the Andrew Sullivan article Linker was referencing.  He is condensing the discussion of Socrates in Book VIII of Plato’s Republic. From Andrew Sullivan, Democracies end when they are too democratic.: